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30 May 2017, 07:34
An SNP victory in the General Election in Scotland would "further reinforce'' the mandate for a second independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
With the UK due to exit the European Union (EU) in less than two years, the SNP leader and Scottish First Minster said Scotland "must have a choice about our future'' between Brexit and independence.
She warned Theresa May that if the SNP wins the most seats in Scotland on June 8 - as the party is almost certain to do - that "continued Tory attempts'' to block another referendum would be "democratically unsustainable''.
Ms Sturgeon made the comments as she unveiled the SNP manifesto for the election to supporters at the Perth Concert Hall.
It sets out a "plan to end Tory cuts'', freeing up £118 billion of public money across the UK over the term of the next parliament, Ms Sturgeon said.
The SNP also gave its support to increasing the top rate of tax across the UK from 45p to 50p, alongside plans to increase the "real living wage'' to just over £10 an hour by the end of the next parliament, as part of a "three-point plan to tackle poverty and inequality''.
Nationalist MPs at Westminster would also support the reversal of the two-child cap on tax credits, with Ms Sturgeon pledging: "We will campaign tirelessly against the immoral rape clause that goes with it - a policy that shames every Tory candidate who supports it.''
She condemned the Conservatives for their "assault on social security'', saying this was an attack on the poor, disabled and vulnerable in society.
"These cuts strike at the very heart of how we see ourselves as a nation and our shared ambition for the future,'' she said
"They are unfair and they are designed to divide.''
In "challenging economic times'', she said Brexit - and "especially an extreme Brexit'' - put in danger the progress that was being made.
Ms Sturgeon said: "That is why I believe so strongly that at the end of the Brexit process - not now, but when the terms of the deal are known - Scotland must have a choice about our future; a choice between following the UK down the Brexit path or becoming an independent country.''
A majority of Scots voted to stay part of the EU in the 2016 referendum and the SNP leader added: "There is just too much at stake for Brexit simply to be imposed on Scotland, no matter how damaging it turns out to be.
"Our future must be decided by us, not for us.
"Last year's Holyrood election delivered the democratic mandate for Scotland having such a choice and the recent vote of the Scottish Parliament underlined it.
"If the SNP wins a majority of Scottish seats in this election, that will further reinforce our mandate.
"In these circumstances, any continued Tory attempts to block Scotland having a choice - when the time is right and the options are clear - would be democratically unsustainable.''
Ms Sturgeon said being taken out of the EU and the single market would put 80,000 jobs in Scotland at risk and would pose "a real danger to our farmers and fisherman, our universities, our food and drink businesses, to almost every sector of our economy''.
Scottish Government proposals to keep the UK in the single market were "brushed aside'' by the Prime Minister, she added.
She said: "This election offers people the opportunity to give them democratic legitimacy and make it impossible for the Prime Minister to continue to ignore Scotland's voice.
"So, my message to all voters in Scotland is this: whether you voted Leave or Remain last year, or Yes or No in 2014, vote SNP on June 8 to give me a mandate to demand a place for Scotland at the Brexit negotiating table, so we can work to keep Scotland in the single market.''
The First Minister insisted: "Now, more than ever, it is vital to have strong SNP voices standing up for Scotland at Westminster.''
She said a vote for her party next week would "strengthen Scotland's hand against Tory cuts'' and also help protect against a ``extreme Brexit''.
As well as this, she said it would "strengthen Scotland's right to make our own decisions''.
The SNP leader told the audience: "The fact is we can't afford a Tory government with a free hand to do whatever it likes.
"We must have strong voices, standing up for our interests and defending the values we hold dear.''
While she stressed the importance of Scotland being given a choice on its future, the First Minister used much of her speech to attack the Conservatives.
She said her manifesto represented a "clear alternative to continued austerity''.
Ms Sturgeon added: "For the Tories, austerity cuts are not simply a policy response to a particular economic situation.
"They are political dogma - an ideology.''
She pledged policies outlined in the SNP manifesto would "restore fairness'' to the social security system, telling supporters: "Make no mistake - the Tories have sought to undermine faith in the welfare state itself.
"They have set out, deliberately, to stigmatise those on benefits.
"Their rhetoric is cover for the hardship they are causing to those who work hard and struggle to get by on low incomes.
"Children, the elderly, women, the disabled - even the bereaved - are bearing the brunt.''
She added: "There are £9 billion in social security cuts still to come over the next four years.
"Not surprisingly, the Tories want to press ahead with every penny. What is surprising is that Labour is pledging to reverse less than a quarter.''
She insisted: "SNP MPs will stand against all of the further planned cuts to social security because they will punish the disabled and those who work hard to make ends meet.''
The SNP is also against plans to end the "triple-lock'' on pensions, which currently means these rise by at least 2.5% a year.
Ms Sturgeon added: "The Tory manifesto is nothing short of an assault on pensioners - from the dementia tax, to the removal of the winter fuel allowance and the ending of the triple lock.''
She said the Tories "think they can take the votes of many older people for granted '' as she told older voters: "If you don't want them to have a free hand to remove your hard-won protections, make sure you elect strong voices who will stand up for you.
"The SNP will protect the winter fuel allowance and with pensioner poverty once again on the rise, we will oppose the removal of the triple lock.''
The Prime Minister called the snap election because "with Labour in disarray the Tories saw a chance to tighten their grip on the whole of the UK for many years to come'', Ms Sturgeon argued.
She said the Conservatives' "true colours'' were being exposed in the campaign and added: "We have a real chance to keep them in check.''
Ms Sturgeon insisted: "Let's be clear - Labour isn't strong enough to do that. Voting Labour simply risks letting in Tory MPs.
"In Scotland, only the SNP can keep the Tories in check. In this election, it is vital that we strengthen Scotland's hand, not Theresa May's.''